Honda's Asimo humanoid robot may be headed for a lifetime of domestic chores: engineers at the company have taught the robot how to serve tea to guests - and give a nice little bow when it's done.
The tea needs to be prepared by a human and placed on a tray on a cart. Asimo will then push the cart to the table, lift up the tray and place it on the guest's table. The robot then takes a couple of steps back and bows, as is the tradition in Japan.
Serving tea - or any other drink - is one of the new features in the latest version of the robot, unveiled earlier this month. The robots also try to cooperate on certain tasks. For example, one will push a cart with tea for two tables. When it comes to a stop and begins to serve the first table, another Asimo will take the second tray and serve the second table.
The Asimo robots are connected by a wireless network and information about the tasks and the location of each robot is shared between them. The information allows tasks can be assigned in the most efficient manner.
Asimo can also monitor its battery level, and when it gets low the robot can automatically head to the nearest recharging station. It backs into the charging stand and recharges standing up. It then walks off the charging station and resumes its duties.
New sensors also allow robots to monitor the path ahead of them and anticipate where humans will be walking. The robots will pause or change course automatically to avoid obstacles and keep out of the way of people.
Asimo is one of the most advanced humanoid robots ever developed, but there is a long way to go before Honda sees its dream of a humanoid robot that can do real work and coexist with humans. Indeed, is indicative of the amount of work to be done that the latest Asimo boasts as its top function the ability to do a job that children pick up at an early age: the ability to carry a tray.